My plan today was to get the ferry over to Cacilhas again and then catch a bus to Sesimbra and lie on the beach all day. It was pouring with rain when I woke up. There was no Plan B. Consequently, I did very little in my room all morning. I did make eye contact and exchanged smiles with the lady in the lime green dressing gown in the attic opposite when we were both standing at our respective windows staring out at the rain. However, there was no point in venturing out, as I would have been soaked within minutes. When it started to brighten up at about 2pm, I went for a walk.
This took me along the waterfront and into Paco do Terreira, the centre of all Lisbon activities, where I visited the Lisboa Story Centre. This was excellently presented and well worth visiting. I was given an audio set, which automatically played a narrative, as I moved from room to room. There was also a rather realistic audio visual of the 1755 earthquake, which certainly would unsettle anyone who had actually experienced one (and my mind was on Christchurch at the time).
Afterwards, I meandered slowly back, inevitably stopping for the daily dose of Pastel del Nata and coffee at a small cafe. Hopefully, I will be able to find them further north and they are not just a specialty of Lisbon!
This morning dawned bright and beautiful, naturally, after thwarting my plans for the beach yesterday. Today was a travel day and I was off on the next stage to Coimbra, in the Central Region, which meant catching a bus from Sete Rios bus station, except of course, none of the signs call it that and the metro goes to Jardim Zoologique, not Sete Rios. Some things really should be more straightforward!
I arrived at the bus station in good time, queued for the ticket (fastest moving queue I have been in so far) and boarded the very comfortable bus for the two hours or so, non stop service to Coimbra. I was lucky in that, on a very full bus, I had no one sitting next to me.
The countryside was fairly flat and uninteresting to start with but, as we travelled further north, it became much greener, with tracts of pines and eucalyptus trees. The contour also became more undulating and hilly.
I walked into town from the bus station and immediately liked the feel of the place. My hotel/guest house, when I found it, was in a narrow cobbled street lined with small local shops. My host couldn’t speak English, so we conversed in French, with me racking my brains for the French I haven’t spoken for donkey’s years. It was very convivial! My room is quite basic, has a balcony overlooking the street, which I love, and my own ensuite bathroom (something of a luxury these days!)
I ate the roll I had made before I left Lisbon and hit the town. ‘Hit’ may not be quite the right word but I did my usual, and wandered right, left and centre until I found myself up in the University area.
This was beautiful and I even paid the entrance fee to go into the old library (one of the main attractions of Coimbra), the Chapel, with its organ with 2,000 pipes, and some other rooms. There were 2 or 3 French groups of tourists, but otherwise, not too many people, which was bliss after Lisbon.
Afterwards, I walked down, past the aqueduct and through some botanic gardens. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my way down through them and ended up walking rather a long way in the wrong direction before being able to head in the right one. My feet did protest! There was lots more to explore but that will have to wait until tomorrow.
Back near the hotel, having had a restorative coffee and Pastel da Nata, (thankfully, they do have them in the north) I hunted for a supermarket. Unbelievably, there was none to be found! Plenty of shoe shops, (Portugal’s third biggest export), pharmacies, fruit and veg and meat shops, but no supermarket. I was forced to buy my wine in a wine shop, which was another novelty.
I had intended to go out for dinner tonight but, having put my feet up and having had the cake at 6pm, I wasn’t very hungry, so I ate the Pringles out of the mini bar instead. They went very well with the Rose Vinho Verde! Unfortunately, I thought this was going to be a nice quiet street, but as I am writing, there is music blasting forth from, what I assume, must be a bar or club. Oh good…..!
I awoke to yet another blue sky and the sound of a cockatoo screeching from a balcony on the other side of the street, which brought back memories of Harry, our poor, deceased (female) family bird.
At breakfast, I was pleased to note that I had not forgotten all my French, could follow the conversation between some French guests and the Portuguese owner and even discern the strong Portuguese accent when the owner was speaking. (I wasn’t sufficiently confident to join in though!)
I had decided to do a day trip on the train to Tomar today, so arrived at the station, which is a mere 5 minute walk away, and joined a painstakingly slow queue to buy a ticket. When it was my turn, I found out why. It took at least 5 minutes for the ticket man to go through the computer options to print out my ticket, something I would have expected to be fairly straight forward. After walking away from the office, I realised he had booked me on a train back at 18.15 which was much later than I intended but thought I would worry about that later. As it turned out, I ended up rushing for that train, as there was much more to do in Tomar than I anticipated.
It was about a 2 hour trip with a change of trains to reach the town and I was backtracking on some of the countryside I had driven through on the motorway from Lisbon. Once there, I wandered in to town and found the tourist office, where I was one of those tourists I used to so despise who arrive and then ask ‘what is there to see?’.
I had decided that I would have a proper lunch today as I had been snacking for the last week. Consequently, my first stop was in a restaurant where I could observe no obvious foreign tourists. Unfortunately, the food was extremely disappointing with my choice of a local pork dish being some dry cubes of pork with some very, very small shellfish (like pipis in N.Z. but smaller), and fried cubes of potato. Not a vegetable or piece of salad in sight! The service was slow and the meal took over an hour which, with hindsight, I could have done without.
Afterwards, I vaguely followed the historic trail map, conveniently supplied by the tourist office, and wandered around the historic part of town and along the river. It was a very attractive town and, more importantly, there were not too many tourists. As in just about all the places I have visited, there was a large amount of renovation underway, not only in private houses but also in public buildings.
The main ‘attraction’ of the town is the Castle and Convent of Christ, a Unesco World Heritage site, set high on the hill overlooking the town. I walked to it up the steep cobbled streets, bought by ticket and mentally prepared myself to wander around yet another religious building for an hour or so. It transpired that it was massive and very well worth visiting. The hour I had mentally allocated was extended, with the result that I then did not have enough time to visit the gardens in the town that I had left to last to explore.
Despite there being several groups of French and English tourists at the Convent, the place still maintained a feeling of peace and tranquillity. Architecturally, it was quite extraordinary, much of it being built in the Baroque style. There were cloisters going off in all directions on three levels, so it was very easy to get lost and there was an extremely ornate chapel in the middle.
It was nearly 5.30pm before I descended into town once again. I just had enough time to do a very brief circuit around the formal part of the gardens but had to miss the 2 or 3km woodland walk, as I then had to rush back to the station for the train and the 2 hour trip back to Coimbra. As I rode along, the countryside was beautiful in the evening light, with the sun shining on the terracotta roof tiles and the white walls of the buildings.
The morning was allocated to domestic stuff. I first had a haircut at the extremely convenient hairdressers located, literally, right next door to the guest house.
The rest of the morning, such as it was, was then spent updating the blog, researching etc. I then headed off to meet Carolyn at her hotel, which was about 5 minutes walk away. Even I could not mess up this arrangement and it was good to catch up after missing each other (or rather me missing her) on Saturday.
We discovered that we had both been having a daily Pastel del Nata with coffee, so this is where we headed first. For both of us, this was the first really bad one we had tasted. We were very unimpressed! Having sat and chatted at the cafe for a while, we then wandered across the river and headed for some gardens where there were supposed to be some fountains of some historic importance, although I have already forgotten what. The fountains themselves seemed to be non existent apart from a bit of stonework (no flowing water) and having stood and chatted there for a while, I decided I needed to sit down, so we sat on the steps of an amphitheatre and that is as far we got!
The next time I looked at my watch it was 5.45pm and the afternoon had been spent very idly, talking, which I have to say, was most enjoyable and relaxing. We strolled back over to the other side of the river where I wanted to see the Centre of Portugal, which turned out to be a concert room called Portugal Centre and not the physical centre as I had assumed!
We had dinner at a restaurant that Carolyn had seen in one of her guide books and it transpired that this was a very good choice. After yet more chatting (neither of us had talked to anyone for quite a while) and arranging to meet in Aveiro in a couple of days, we went our separate ways, each returning to our respective hotels.
I left Coimbra today and travelled the short distance to Aveiro by train, where I had booked a hotel for 2 nights. The trains ran frequently between the 2 towns, so I didn’t have too long to wait for the next one. The transport here appears to be plentiful and reasonably efficient.
From the train, Aveiro did not look particularly appealing. I walked the short distance to my hotel, which was somewhat disappointing, the room being large and clean but otherwise totally devoid of any character. And there was no wifi in the room! I was already regretting booking 2 nights and wishing I had stayed an extra day in Coimbra. However, time soon passes and it could have been a lot worse.
Having spent an hour or so on the internet in the lounge area accompanied by the horrendous blast of a music channel on the television, I walked towards town, which was about 1km down the road, inevitably stopping for coffee and pastel del nata along the way. Thankfully, it was a vast improvement on that of yesterday!
Aveiro likes to think of itself as the Venice of Portugal as it has canals and gondolas of a sort (called moliceiros here, they were originally used for collecting seaweed). There were quite a number of these brightly painted vessels plying the waters, loaded with tourists.
I spent some time wandering around the shopping area and then followed the main canal through the park towards the lagoon, where the salt beds are located. There was also evidence of a fishing industry in the derelict buildings at the end of the road but all that is left now is a small marina for yachts and a repair yard.I spent some time wandering around the shopping area and then followed the main canal through the park towards the lagoon, where the salt beds are located. There was also evidence of a fishing industry in the derelict buildings at the end of the road but all that is left now is a small marina for yachts and a repair yard.
I turned around and strolled back to town, taking another branch of a canal and then going into the historic area then back to the main canal and my hotel.
On the way to meet Carolyn at her hotel this morning, I stopped for my breakfast coffee. However, because they didn’t understand what I had asked for (so much for trying my Portuguese!), I ended up with 2 sips of espresso and a pastel del nata, which, whilst lovely, but not quite what I was expecting.
Carolyn had just arrived from Coimbra, so she got a brief look at the centre of town, before I selfishly suggested we go to the beach for the day, so this is what we did. It was a half hour bus trip to Costa Nova, which is one of the two closest beaches to Aveiro, Barra being the other.
It was a beautiful beach set on one side of a strip of land, with the lagoon being on the other. There were not very many people there and those that were appeared to be Portuguese or Spanish rather than other Europeans. There wasn’t a town or even any shops that we could see, as these all seemed to be located in the more built up area of Barra. However, there were some very interesting houses that were either painted with stripes or, in the case of the more modern ones, covered in tiles in the same pattern as the traditional fishermen’s stripey houses.
We had a stroll along the board walks, much of which were covered in sand, and then went for lunch at a cafe nearby. After this we spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the lovely, soft, fine sand, trying to escape from the wind by sheltering close to the dunes. Everybody else seemed to be well protected with wind shelters and umbrellas! It was certainly a good place fo the kite surfers.
Later, we caught the bus back to town and went for dinner at another place listed in Carolyn’s guide book. This was an upstairs restaurant that overlooked one of the canals. This was probably the best part about it as the service was slow and unfriendly and the food nothing special.